Sticker Price vs. Net Price: Colleges With the Biggest Difference

Find out why some colleges with high tuition rates may be more affordable than you think.

By Ashley Henshaw | February 17, 2017

Researching the cost of colleges will be helpful when it comes time to decide which school you want to attend.
Photo: Thinkstock

Think that expensive college is out of your league financially? Think again. Some of the colleges and universities with the highest tuition prices are actually much more affordable than you might imagine. When researching schools, it’s important to find out what the net price (full cost of attendance per year once scholarships and grants are subtracted) is compared to the sticker price. The following colleges offer the biggest difference between these two values based on 2011-2012 figures found at National Center for Education Statistic’s College Navigator.

If you can’t find a college’s net price calculator online, be sure to give the admissions office a call.

Harvard – Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Annual Sticker Price: $56,000
    Average Annual Net Price: $14,445
    Difference: $41,555

At Harvard University, 45 percent of students receive grants and/or scholarships. The university awards more than $40 million in institutional scholarships and grants to beginning undergraduate students alone. About 18 percent of beginning undergrads receive Pell Grants. Families who earn $30,000 or less per year pay an average net price of just $2,880 per year for a student to attend Harvard.

Yale University – New Haven, Connecticut

  • Annual Sticker Price: $58,250
    Average Annual Net Price: $18,479
    Difference: $39,771

About 62 percent of students at Yale receive financial aid, with around 59 percent receiving scholarships and/or grants. The average incoming undergraduate student receives over $38,000 in grants or scholarships from the university. Around 14 percent of Yale students use Pell Grants to help pay for school.

Stanford University – Stanford, California

  • Annual Sticker Price: $57,755
    Average Annual Net Price: $19,233
    Difference: $38,522

At Stanford University, the average amount of grants and scholarships awarded to beginning undergrads is $38,522 per student. In total, students at Stanford receive over $165 million in grant and scholarship money each year. The average net price to attend is just $4,501 per year for families earning $30,000 or less annually.

Vassar College – Poughkeepsie, New York

  • Annual Sticker Price: $57,385
    Average Annual Net Price: $18,934
    Difference: $38,451

Students at Vassar receive an average of $36,956 each per year in grants and scholarships. The college awards over $15 million in institutional grants and scholarships each year to beginning undergraduate students alone. About 22 percent of students at Vassar use Pell Grants to help pay for their college expenses.

Columbia University – New York, New York

  • Annual Sticker Price: $59,208
    Average Annual Net Price: $21,274
    Difference: $37,934

At Columbia University, 55 percent of students receive grants and/or scholarships. The total amount of grants and scholarships awarded to students each year is over $160 million. Families with an income between $30,000 and $48,000 pay just over $6,700 per year for a student to attend.

Columbia University's Japanese club poses for a photograph.

Wesleyan University – Middletown, Connecticut

  • Annual Sticker Price: $58,671
    Average Annual Net Price: $21,160
    Difference: $37,511

Wesleyan University has about 58 percent of students receiving financial aid. The average amount of grant and scholarship aid awarded per student is $37,511. Families with an income of $30,000 or less pay an average net price of $7,755 for this university.

Trinity College – Hartford, Connecticut

  • Annual Sticker Price: $57,575
    Average Annual Net Price: $20,301
    Difference: $37,274

Trinity College offers over $7 million in institutional grants and scholarships to beginning undergraduate students each year. About 35 percent of these beginning undergrads receive a grant or scholarship from the college. The average net price to attend Trinity is $9,247 for families earning between $30,000 and $48,000 per year.

Swarthmore College – Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

  • Annual Sticker Price: $55,895
    Average Annual Net Price: $20,112
    Difference: $35,783

Swarthmore College students receive an average of $35,783 in grants and scholarships per year. The college awards over $7.6 million dollars per year in institutional grants and scholarships to incoming undergrads alone. Families earning $75,000 or less pay a net price of less than $11,500 per year.

University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Annual Sticker Price: $57,360
    Average Annual Net Price: $21,821
    Difference: $35,539

Students at the University of Pennsylvania receive over $188 million total in grants and scholarships each year. About 53 percent of students are awarded grant or scholarship money. The average net price to attend is less than $8,000 for families with an income of $48,000 or less.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Annual Sticker Price: $55,270
    Average Annual Net Price: $20,660
    Difference: $34,610

About 74 percent of MIT students receive grant or scholarship aid each year, and approximately 20 percent of students use Pell Grants to pay for school. Beginning undergraduate students receive an average of $34,641 in grant and/or scholarship money. The average net price to attend is less than $5,000 for families with an income of $48,000 or less.

M.I.T. has garnered national attention for encouraging undergraduates to reach out to prospective high school students via social media.

If you can’t find a college’s net price calculator online, be sure to give the admissions office a call. According to the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, all colleges and universities that accept federal aid are required to provide this information.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

Figure Out What College Will Really Cost You
What's Included in the Cost of Attendance (COA)?
Costs Of A Bachelor’s Degree Program
The Cost of College Room and Board

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